Friday, Charleston Southern announced the following regarding its Saturday game against No. 3 Florida State:
Charleston Southern University will withhold 14 players from Saturday's football game at Florida State. CSU self-reported to the NCAA financial aid violations related to book purchases. In total, 32 football players must serve a one-game suspension. Sixteen student-athletes suspensions were staggered over the first two weeks of the season and two additional players will serve their suspensions at a later date.
Under NCAA rules, student-athletes may purchase books and school supplies with the financial aid provided to them to purchase books. Other items cannot be covered by that financial aid.
CSU is continuing an internal review of possible NCAA rules violations within the athletics program. The university is working with the NCAA, the Big South Conference and an outside consultant during this process.
CSU didn't name any specific players in the release.
On Thursday, CSU running back Ben Robinson posted to Facebook an explanation for the suspensions. Robinson said the players used school book money to buy several other things at the university bookstore after being advised to do so by bookstore employees.
From Charleston Southern running back Ben Robinson's Facebook page. pic.twitter.com/mXpov7b4ec— Ariya Massoudi (@AriyaMassoudi) September 9, 2016
He said the players had to pay a fine and sit out a game, and that he’d have to choose between sitting out either the game at Florida State or a conference game. The Buccaneers are one of the best teams in the FCS and a top contender in the Big South Conference. That means players would have to choose between a rare chance to play a top FBS team in an 80,000-seat stadium or a chance to further their own FCS playoff chances.
A Tallahassee sports director:
Apparently, they've been doing book money this way for 15 years, before Small got to CSU.— Alison Posey (@AlisonPosey14) September 9, 2016
Small refers to CSU athletic director Hank Small.
SB Nation’s Stephen White, a former Tennessee and Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman, has noted these FCS-vs.-FBS games are often the only chances for NFL hopefuls in the lower level of Division I to generate film against elite competition.
So what NCAA rule was allegedly broken here?
Many FBS teams have started giving players cost-of-attendance money, which pays for school costs besides just tuition, books and lodging. Many FCS teams have opposed COA allowances on budget grounds. When one like Liberty says it’ll start paying players more, that makes waves.
Since CSU doesn't offer COA for athletes, players aren’t allowed to spend their school money on anything besides the absolute basics, according to the NCAA. Players evidently didn't realize they had to return to the school any money left over after buying books.
This is an ongoing incident; 16 players had already missed at least one game for what one local columnist is calling Bookstoregate. As one NCAA expert notes, it would be pretty simple to just start letting players use their left-over book money for school expenses:
The better question is why extra book money can’t be called a cost-of-arrendance stipend. Then it’s a conference issue at most.— John Infante (@John_Infante) September 9, 2016
According to a redshirt junior CSU offensive lineman, the entire offensive line is suspended against FSU:
Wow. Per Charleston Southern Offensive Lineman Frank Cirone, the entire offensive line is suspended vs. FSU. pic.twitter.com/g6uCqfFRR0— Ariya Massoudi (@AriyaMassoudi) September 9, 2016
A senior wide receiver adds more details, calling the last few weeks a "witch hunt":
More insight from Charleston Southern Wide Receiver Colton Korn's Facebook post. pic.twitter.com/CGn1Jo7NER— Ariya Massoudi (@AriyaMassoudi) September 9, 2016
A bulk suspension only makes a near-impossible CSU upset of FSU even less possible.
But it’s still a shame. Players from small schools look forward to guarantee games against national powers. Robinson, the running back who posted on Facebook, is a Tallahassee native. Korn, the wide receiver, wrote that he felt bad for his many teammates from Florida, who won't be able to play in front of their families after all.
FCS teams only get 63 scholarships, sometimes giving players partial schollies, so a suspension of 30 players – whether all are scholarship athletes or not – would've taken a huge bite out of the roster. Sixteen is still a ton.
The Bucs were already shorthanded in a big way: starting quarterback Kyle Copeland was lost for the season with a knee injury last week, and backup London Johnson has never made a start before.
Can CSU just forfeit?
FSU official says Charleston Southern forfeiting isn't on the table. They will have enough players to field a team— Jared Shanker (@JShankerESPN) September 9, 2016
But there's reason to think the Seminoles will at least show some common-sense compassion on the field.
A few weeks ago, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher talked about how important these FCS-FBS games are to smaller-school budgets and how a duty of larger programs is helping smaller teams make ends meet.
In 2012, Fisher's Noles gave FCS Savannah State a running clock (designed to shorten the game) with more than 20 minutes left in the game.
And there's zero incentive for FSU to run up the score, with important conference games against Louisville, Miami, and Clemson coming up soon.